Fall-seeded crops, such as winter wheat, offer an important nesting alternative for the Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) as producers seed the crop in the fall, and the nests are left undisturbed during the spring nesting season.
Pintail populations, like those of other ducks, declined during the dry years of the 1980’s. However, pintails were the only prairie breeding dabbling ducks that did not respond to a return in wet conditions across the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) that occurred in the late 1990’s.
One theory to explain the population decline suggests that a drop in summer-fallowed acres across the PPR has more severely affected pintails since they nest earlier than other ducks and need nesting cover left over from the previous year. During the 1970’s, nearly half of the cropland acres were left to fallow each year and only cultivated in the late summer to control weeds. Larger equipment and advances in crop genetics have facilitated significant reductions in the fallowed acres that pintails were previously able to take advantage of as nesting habitat.
Expansion of fall-seeded crops in the PPR, along with conservation of existing grasslands, represent important components of conservation work on the landscape that will benefit pintails and hopefully facilitate their recovery to former population levels.